Overcoming Carbohydrate Addiction on the Paleo Diet

A post I just read on BlogCritics.org made me think about the difficulty I had when starting a low carbohydrate program. We know carbs are addictive. They have a sneaky way of reintroducing themselves to us just when we are at our weakest. But along the way I picked up some useful information that has helped me be on my guard and get over the difficult spots. If you’ve come off of eating a moderate to high carbohydrate diet you will encounter these bumps in the road too, because it’s all chemistry. When you start the Paleo diet you are actually overcoming a carbohydrate addition. Any drug addict will tell you how hard that can be.

Foods made from grain. If anything will keep you addicted these will.

But why do we get addicted in the fist place? What is it about carbohydrates that act upon us as they do? An article from the Details website explains very clearly the mechanism behind the addiction:

….eating carbs, especially refined varieties like sugar or flour, sweetened drinks, or starches, causes the body to release the hormone insulin. The body secretes insulin as a response to high blood sugar—a serious, even potentially lethal health risk over time. The hormone directs cells to extract sugar from the blood and store it as fat, and what’s worse, in order to get sugar out of the blood as efficiently as possible, insulin makes it extremely difficult for the body to burn its fat stores. Over time, the presence of insulin in our carb-heavy diet causes diminishing returns. As our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, our bodies frequently release even more of it to compensate. The result is a blood-sugar vacuum: The body craves more of what the hormone feeds on and triggers our hunger mechanism, which works subconsciously, to direct us toward the nutrient causing all the problems in the first place—carbohydrates. You get fatter and your body craves even more carbs in order to maintain your increasing weight. Drug cartels can only dream of a narcotic with an addiction cycle this powerful.

Wow, sounds like one of the deadliest drugs ever cooked up in a lab. But the “lab” is our bodies. However, it is possible to break this addiction, just as it is possible to stop taking heroin. Which is harder? Well I have no experience with heroin, so I couldn’t tell you. But breaking the carb addiction was a real struggle.

Gummy candy. Is this like crack cocaine? Photo by Stefano Mortellaro

Once hooked, can you quit your carb addiction? It’s not like there’s a carb-cessation program at Promises, after all. Taubes says it won’t be easy, but given the alternatives, you simply have to try. And cold turkey is as good a method as any. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that the craving for carbs will go away after a while,” he says, “although whether a while is a few weeks or a few years is hard to say.” And frighteningly like an addict in recovery, you’re unlikely ever to be totally cured, and you’ll always be tempted to relapse when the opportunity arises…. Read the full article here….

So, how did I overcome my carb addiction? It was a struggle. I would be really good for a week, then eat some refined carb laden food on the weekend, just once, and I’d be fighting cravings again. I have been seeing a naprapathic doctor to do manual lymphatic drainage for me and I mentioned the problem I’d been having. He explained that the body needs three full weeks to get over the addiction. As you approach the three week mark you body suddenly craves more carbs. That is why people fail. They don’t get past that three week mark. The cravings kick in, we give in and have to start all over again.

Am I totally over the carbohydrate addiction? Well, I’ve been doing the Paleo diet for about a year, three or four months of that was spent fighting the carbohydrate addiction. As of this moment I have no cravings for any carbohydrate or for any food, what so ever. If that is a measure of the lack of carb addiction, the no, I am no longer addicted. However I don’t know how my body will react to eating refined carbs and I’m not willing to find out. It’s not that important. But it certainly seems to be possible to overcome the carbohydrate addiction on the Paleo diet.

What were your experiences with this? Did you notice the change after 3 weeks of low carbs?


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2 Responses to Overcoming Carbohydrate Addiction on the Paleo Diet

  1. Jim August 8, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Hey Lila -

    This is a really interesting article. Carb addiction (more like sugar and flour additction) is probably one of the main drivers of the Type 2 Diabetes epidemic we are facing.

    This article served me as reminder and wake up call.

    Thanks again for all your great work promoting a healthy diet


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